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There are significant questions for the Milwaukee County Jail and its Sherriff’s Department about the death of Terrill Thomas, 38, an inmate found in his cell a year ago. The cause of death was “profound dehydration” after being deprived of water for seven straight days, the medical examiner said. Family and an outraged public agree that someone should be held legally accountable for the death of Mr. Thomas.
An inquest convened by the city’s prosecutor believes someone should be punished too. The jurors came back May 1 with a recommendation that some county jail workers face charges.
The jury has recommended criminal charges against seven Milwaukee County jail staffers. The jury’s recommendation followed a six-day inquest that included testimony from jail staff and evidence from county prosecutors. The jury found probable cause to believe the staffers committed the crime of abuse of a resident of a penal facility in the death of Mr. Thomas.
They recommended charges against two jail supervisors and five correctional officers.
It’s up to prosecutors whether to file charges.
The inquest highlighted errors surrounding Mr. Thomas’ death, including the failure to log that his water had been turned off.
Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke oversees the jail, but the inquest did not target him.
A guard intentionally turned off the water in an isolation cell because Mr. Thomas had flooded a previous cell, according to officials. A jail supervisor insists she only ordered that water to the toilet in the cell be turned off to prevent any flooding.
The jurors recommended charges against two jail supervisors, Nancy Evans and Kashka Meadors, and five officers: James Ramsey-Guy, JorDon Johnson, Thomas Laine, Dominique Smith and John Weber.
Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm said he had no timeline to decide, and that he could charge more people—or fewer.
The jury returned its recommendation just a few hours after morning testimony that the sheriff’s office continued using water deprivation as a form of punishment even after Mr. Thomas’ death. Prosecutors presented jurors with jail logs documenting two cases in which disobeying inmates had water to their cells turned off—both within a month of Mr. Thomas dying. One of the cases happened a week after Mr. Thomas’ death and in both subsequent instances it wasn’t clear when it was turned back on.
“This isn’t the first time this happened. This is a pattern,” Assistant District Attorney Kurt Bentley said.
Mr. Chisholm said he thought jurors were swayed by evidence that showed jail policies weren’t followed and that Mr. Thomas had been left in poor conditions.
“I think it’s just the clear lack of oversight over this entire process that really troubled them more than anything else,” he said.
Mr. Chisholm said he conducted an inquest because what happened was a “major system failure” and he wanted the public to have some input in his decision.